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'A Long Short War'

Even though the war in Iraq has more or less concluded, the debate over its merits continues.

Journalist Christopher Hitchens, along with the online journal, Slate, has published a collection of his essays on the topic entitled, "A Long Short War: The Postponed Liberation of Iraq."

Hitchens says he was originally opposed to President Bush's war on Iraq in the '90s because he doubted its motives and practices. But, he says, it was during the course of that war that he changed his mind. The war saved the large Kurd population in that region from being murdered by Saddam Hussein's regime.

He tells The Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith, "For a long time I have thought the cause of the Kurdish people, their struggle for survival, was justified to say the least, and that we opened something for them."

And that was the point of his conversion. He says, "I wasn't very keen on the first Gulf War. I have changed my mind in Northern Iraq. I also thought the Iraqi civilian opposition credited brilliant people to take on Saddam Hussein who were fighting civil disobedience."

The author says he believes the war with Iraq began in 1990 with Bush senior and ended this year with the younger Bush as president.

Hitchens says it started in August 1990, "basically, when Saddam Hussein smashes into Kuwait and at that time he had a choice of either burying Kuwait or finishing his nuclear bomb. Fortunately for us, he decided to do his things in the wrong order. Now he doesn't have Kuwait or the bomb or any weapons, and I think it took too long, but it was worth doing. This is to remind people why it was worth it in the first place."

The war to oust the Baathist regime is arguably a success. When asked by Smith if the United States won the peace there, Hitchens says, "No. I have to say somebody should be fired for this."

He explains, "They can't not have known that there was going to be a shortage of elementary stuff in Baghdad. And they can't not have known that they forgot they made a promise that the faces of the government would be Iraqi, even if for a while, the opponents of power would be American. You can't make a promise like that and go back on it. It's an insult to the bravery and skill of the people to see this political mess now."

Coming from a perspective of being a proponent of the war and seeing what is going on now, Hitchens says the war went better than anyone expected. But there is still much work to be done.

He says, "The two crucial political promises were quality of life would be better. We can bring what you need. We've analyzed it for long. Where's the corps of engineers? How comes the lights aren't on in Baghdad? Seems extraordinary. We did promise there would be a council of Iraqi and Kurdish citizens who constituted at least an interim authority. That hasn't been allowed to occur."

When asked if he thinks there is a political will for The United States to stay the course, Hitchens says there is no doubt about that.

He says, "The Gulf is on America's map, no matter what. In a way that, say, Afghanistan is. It will pay for itself. Certainly we've kicked out the main objectionist party in the Middle East peace process. Saddam Hussein, don't forget, was offering money in his own name - bounty - to suicide bombers in Palestine. Had a big interest in making sure the process was sabotaged. Taking him out is a precondition for what we hope will be a Palestinian settlement."

Hitchens says he does not believe the Bush administration missold this war. He explains, "I don't think that they thought they were fabricating it. After all, don't forget, Iraq admitted claims to have enormous stockpile of nerve gas and chemical agents and anthrax and never gave any proof of having destroyed them. So no one's making that up. They did not comply with resolution 1441, which could have saved their regime. And 15 states in the world voted unanimously, in fact, for that resolution, which states that Iraq has and threatens to disseminate these weapons."

He adds, "If it turns out there was nothing, if you take a slightly cynical view means, OK, in the long run, we did this. One way or another they disarmed him. I admit that sounds contrite. Saddam Hussein wanted to give the impression that he was heavy armed. I'm afraid in the post 9/11 world, if you do that, you'll be taken up on it."

Read an excerpt from "After the Fall"
As it appears on "A Long Short War," by Christopher Hitchens

I was in Iraqi Kurdistan that summer, and when I look at my old notes and photographs I start to quiver. Here it all is. The victims of chemical bombing in the city of Halabja, some of them with injuries that still burning and festering. Villages voided and scorched by Saddam's ethnic cleansing, in a darkened landscape that seems to stretch to hell and back. White-faced refugees and defectors from the south, telling stories of repression that harrow up the soul. But triumphant parades of cars and trucks, with "Boosh, Boosh" chants, and pictures of Bush senior on the windshield. Exiles returning, at first nervous and tentative and then delighted, from years of enforced emigration. And the odd encounter with laconic British Royal Marines, from 40 Commando, holding the strongpoints on the road. (I have a note of Captain Michael Page and Lieutenant Dominic May in the town of Amadia, telling me that: "Some of Saddam's chaps tried something on our perimeter after nightfall. They rather came off second, though.") Without their presence, and that of other soldiers, the gunships might have finished the annihilation of Kurdistan that year, too.

"Bushistan," they called it then, half in jest and half in tribute. I don't think there's a single picture of Bush senior in the region these days. And where are you now, Hoshyar my friend, and all the other brave men who more or less carried me across those streams and mountains? Were you by any chance right to be cynical about superpower patronage? Would you have bothered if you thought that Saddam was going to get another dozen years?

Those twelve years were eaten by the locusts. The trunk of the tree of Iraq was allowed to rot, and its branches to wither. And all the time, a huge and voracious maggot lay at the heart of the state. Trade turned into a racket, the market was monopolized by the Mafiosi, the sanctions screwed the poor and fattened the rich, and palaces with gold shit-houses were constructed to mock the slum-dwellers and the conscripts. A class of lumpen, uneducated, resentful losers was bred. When the Great Leader wanted to be popular, as on the grand occasion of his last referendum, he declared amnesty for the thieves, rapists and murderers who were his natural constituency. (The political detainees stayed where they were, or are: it will take years for us to find and number all their graves.) To his very last day, the Maggot continued to divide and rule: to pump gangrene and pus into the society, disseminating lies and fear and junky religious propaganda. And there his bastard children were, when the opportunity for hectic destruction and saturnalia presented itself. If it is truly possible to be wise after the event, then I associate myself again with those who believe that the Saddam Hussein regime should have been deposed in 1991. There would have been some severe moments, but Iraq would now be twelve years into the process of "nation-building" (or rebuilding) and many unlived or blighted lives could have been lived in the risky atmosphere freedom and self-determination.

"A Long Short War" by Christopher HitchensCopyright © Christopher Hitchens, 2003 All rights reserved. Plume, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.